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South Carolina Racetracks
A Palmetto State Racing Tour
The Carolinas are the home of racing and motorsports. South Carolina features a mixture of tracks, from famous dirt tracks to “the track too tough to tame.” Along the way, we’ll check out some of the towns, hit some museums dedicated to racing and transportation, and get a good look at South Carolina in the process from the foothills to the beach…all on the South Carolina Racing Tour. Start your engines!
Let’s begin near Anderson and Williamston, a town founded in 1842 as a result of a mineral spring discovery. The city has nearly 4,000 residents these days, located in the heart of traditional “textile country” halfway between Anderson and Greenville a few miles off I-85. Right off I-85 and Exit 27 (Highway 81), you’ll find Anderson Motor Speedway. Anderson is a 3/8-mile asphalt oval racing Late Model Stocks, Mini-Stocks, Modifieds, Renegades, and is NASCAR-sanctioned for the Whelen All-American Series. Anderson bills itself as “Supertrack of the Carolinas,” and events take place Friday nights throughout the summer. Special events take place at various times; call them at (864) 226-5481 for info.
From the Williamston area, follow SC Highway 81to SC 74 into Powdersville, where you have easy access via SC 153 to the Best Western PLUS Piedmont Inn & Suites near I-85. You also have easy access via Powdersville Road and SC 153 north to U.S. 123 into Easley, where a quick jaunt east brings you to Greenville Pickens Speedway. Weekly Whelen All-American Series races are held on this .5-mile asphalt track. Touring series, including the NASCAR Grand National Division and the Whelen Southern Modified Tour, also hold events here each year. Greenville-Pickens is one of the “old school” tracks, having opened as a dirt oval in 1940 and hosting its first NASCAR race in 1951. The Upper South Carolina State Fair is held on the grounds adjacent to the track each year in late October, which includes races and events like demolition derby.
Trivia: The first NASCAR race nationally televised from start to finish took place at Greenville-Pickens Speedway on April 10, 1971.
Since you’re so close, why not check out Greenville itself? Just continue on U.S. 123 and head into town. Greenville feels much larger than its population of 65,000, probably because it’s the anchor city for the Greenville-Spartanburg metro area, which has almost half a million residents. Partially due to the former plant in Piedmont we just mentioned, Greenville was known as the “Textile Capital of the World” during the early 20th century and today is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country for business and young professionals. International companies like Michelin make Greenville their North American headquarters, and BMW has an office and manufacturing plant nearby (more on that later) and technology, aviation, and alternative energy are significant economic drivers in the area.
Greenville is home to Furman University, South Carolina’s oldest private university. A liberal arts college founded in 1826, the school has a student body of 2,800 and a wooded 750 acre campus featuring 40-acre Furman Lake, a big reason the campus often makes the list of “America’s Most Beautiful College Campuses.” Along the lake is a replica of the cabin Henry David Thoreau stayed in while writing On Walden Pond, and the Bell Tower & Burnside Carillion both rises to mark the heart of campus and delivers cascading chimes from the 59 bells in the tower. The university is one of the smallest to play NCAA Division I sports, and the Furman Paladins compete across 20 sports in the Southern Conference including football and basketball. Above campus, Paris Mountain State Park offers hiking, biking, swimming, and fishing, all on campus and close to Greenville. A bathhouse built in the 1930s is now the Park Center, which offers historic exhibits.
The city has minor-league pro sports, including the Greenville Drive. A Class-“A” affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, the Greenville Drive draw big at 5,700-seat capacity Fluor Field at the West End. True to its Boston affiliation, Fluor Field is modeled after Fenway Park in terms of field dimensions, its own version of the “Green Monster,” a manual scoreboard, and even singing “Sweet Caroline” in the eighth inning (with more of a Southern than Boston accent). Baseball fans know of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. Heck, most people who don’t follow baseball have heard of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. Greenville salutes the native son with the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum & Baseball Library, located in the house where Joe Jackson lived and died, showcases his life, displays many of his personal belongings, and features over 2,000 books related to baseball. Fluor Field at the West End is right across the street.
The Greenville Road Warriors (which also play well at home) play hockey in the ECHL as affiliates of the NHL’s New York Rangers and the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack. Those games happen in the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, which opened downtown as the Bi-Lo Center in 1998 and hosts plenty of other events, concerts, and more.
Greenville’s downtown is flanked by several historic districts, including the Woodside Cotton Mill Historic District just west of downtown, featuring over 280 buildings of industrial or architectural significance reflecting life in the early 20th century textile town; the Colonel Elias Earle Historic District is a strip north of downtown that was once the estate of a prominent early settler and now features hundreds of 19th century homes with a wide array of architectural styles; the Overbrook Historic District is to the east of downtown and holds historic and large homes from prominent families in the early 20th century, many of whom made their fortunes in textiles. The East Park Avenue Historic District, Heritage Historic District, Pettigru Historic District, and Hampton-Pinckney Historic District are all close to downtown, serving as vivid illustrations that Greenville has been a bustling little city for quite some time.
The West End Historic District holds the ballpark at its southern end and proceeds up and near Main Street south of the Reedy River. This is the “hip and trendy” area of the city, where funky shops and restaurants and meet start-up companies and design firms in former 19th century storefronts and buildings, and a river walk connects many of them. Falls Park on the Reedy is an urban gem of a park, giving visitors not only dynamic green space, public gardens and sculptures, but a 355-foot long suspension bridge that spans the Reedy River. Known as the Liberty Bridge, its unique design offers an unobstructed view of the beautiful waterfalls that cascade over the rocks below, which is also a popular spot for picnic and kids to test their parents’ skittishness by climbing around the rocks. This is perhaps Greenville’s ultimate gathering space; outdoor summer concerts, dining on overlooks, and community events of all kinds happen in the park, which we highly recommend for a visit on a nice afternoon or early evening.
Within blocks of Falls Park on the Reedy, you’ll find the Peace Center, an arts and performance complex including a 2,100-seat concert hall, 400-seat theatre, and amphitheater along the river. The Peace Center is the cultural hub of not just Greenville but all of the Upstate region. You’ll find everything from big-name concerts and Broadway shows to performances of ballet, theater, symphony orchestras, and more from the city’s impressive cast of performing arts groups. Model railroad fans will love the small but fun Miniature World of Trains, just up the street from the park. The layouts feature up to 40 HO scale trains traversing mountain and city landscapes across 1,600 square feet. Kids can also a scavenger hunt.
North of the Reedy, Main Street cuts through the heart of Greenville’s downtown. A streetscape redesign has turned it into a tree-lined street welcoming pedestrians, shoppers, performers, café, galleries, and more. Paralleling two blocks west is Academy Street (U.S. 123), the wider and busier thoroughfare through the business district.
Many museums and attractions are in this area north of the Reedy too, including the Greenville County Museum of Art, a premier American art museum that features the world’s largest collection of works by Andrew Wyeth; the adjacent Children’s Museum of the Upstate, the only children’s museum in the country that is also a Smithsonian affiliate; and the Museum & Gallery at Heritage Green, which has an impressive exhibit of Russian art and history located in a former Coca-Cola bottling plant. Heritage Green is itself features lush gardens, all part of “Museum Row” adjacent to downtown. Also nearby is the Upcountry History Museum, which explores the colorful history of Upstate South Carolina as well as the regions around it with a series of interesting exhibits. Bob Jones University is on the northwest side of Greenville and offers the Bob Jones University Museum & Gallery, which houses an impressive collection of religious art and art from the Victorian Era.
On the southeast side of downtown you’ll find the popular Greenville Zoo, perched on a hill with a nice selection of animals and very kid-friendly. Nearby is more history, with the Museum and Library of Confederate History offering a free and realistic look at life in the South during the Civil War.
To continue on our Tour, head east-northeast out of Greenville on I-385. Along the way before I-85, the Roper Mountain Science Center offers a nature-filled respite including hiking trails through woods, an arboretum, butterfly garden, a living history farm, old homesteads, and the Hooper Planetarium which presents a variety of shows and stargazing opportunities.
Once you reach I-85, head north (the signs will say toward Spartanburg and Charlotte). Exit 54/Pelham Road is where you’ll find the Best Western Greenville Airport Inn, conveniently close to everything we just saw in Greenville as well as the nearby Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (GSP), which is South Carolina’s second busiest.
Within minutes, you reach Spartanburg, the second major city in the metro area. Spartanburg (technically, the suburb of Greer) is home to the BMW Zentrum, the only BMW museum in North America. Why is it there? Because the BMW Plant and Performance Center are there, too. This a unique building showcasing BMW’s car models, stories and exhibits of the company’s engineering and innovation history. It’s the only BMW museum in North America – and very much unlike the cars, it’s free. Factory Tours charge admission, but you get the equivalent of a “backstage pass” look at one of the most advanced automobile factories in the world. Follow I-85 to Exit 60, and just follow the signs.
Southeast from I-85 in Spartanburg’s downtown, you can check out a variety of sights. Wofford College, established back in 1854, educates a student body of 1,600 in Spartanburg and its 175 acre campus is designated as a national arboretum. The NFL’s Carolina Panthers use Wofford’s facilities for training camp, and Duncan Park Stadium is the oldest minor league baseball stadium in the country, having opened in 1926.
For culture, the Chapman Cultural Center is a performing theater with a museum about the area’s history; even a science center is inside. Hollywild Animal Park functions as a kid-friendly zoo with animals from exotic to the very familiar, including some animals who have been featured in movies. The Hub City Railroad Museum reflects on Spartanburg’s days as a rail center, featuring restored old rail cars and cabooses, model train layouts, and more. For history, the Spartanburg County Regional Museum of History and the Walnut Grove Plantation (which dates back to 1793)…both offer a look back at life in the region through the years – and centuries.
From Spartanburg, use either U.S. 29 for the traditional scenic route or I-85 for the four-lane fast route continuing northeast from Spartanburg. For much of the rest of our tour, it’s rural area and history, a chunk of it military related. From I-85 just past Spartanburg, take Exit 78 and follow U.S. 221 and follow the signs to Cowpens National Battlefield. This field, pastoral grazing lands at the time, commemorates the location of the Battle of Cowpens which took place on January 17, 1781 during the latter part of the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution and of the Revolution itself. It was considered a pivotal victory by the Americans. The Cowpens National Battlefield features a museum with exhibits about the American Revolution, a walking tour of the battlefield, and a reconstructed log cabin for the farmer who was quietly just farming the land before a major battle for the nation took place on it (we imagine that was a bit of a shocker for him).
From Cowpens, follow SC Highway 11 (which doubles as the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway, another great alternative route) back toward Gaffney, where you can catch I-85 or U.S. 29 to continue the Tour northeast. At the interchange with I-85 and Highway 11, look for the “Peachoid,” the local water tower painted like a huge peach on a stand. Definitely worth a picture on a nice day! If you head into town, you can shop at Gaffney Premium Outlets or check out Harold’s Restaurant, which was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and offers Southern and American comfort food.
But of course, Gaffney is home to one of our destinations: Cherokee Speedway, located at I-85 and SC Highway 18 (Exit 96) just northeast of town. Cherokee features a 3/8-mile high-banked dirt oval featuring Crate Late Model, Crate Sportsman, Limited Sportsman, Renegade, Extreme 4, Stock 4, Young Guns, and Open Wheel Modified racing. Cherokee offers a long season; the first events are in late February and racing continues into late November!
Alright, we’ve covered three tracks and several cities in the Upstate region of South Carolina, now let’s head across the state for more. From I-85 near Blacksburg take exit 102, follow York Road east (same from the parallel U.S. 29, if you took the two-lane option). Follow York Road and SC Highway 5 past York, staying on York Highway. The road leads into Main Street heading into Rock Hill. With 66,000 residents, Rock Hill is the fifth-largest city in South Carolina and is part of the Charlotte metro. The city is home to Winthrop University, whose 6,000-plus students add a college vibe. If you go through the heart of downtown, check out the four verdigris Civitas statues at the corner of Dale Lyle Boulevard/SC Highway 122. The bronze statues, part of a complex inspired by Michelangelo’s David, each stand 22 feet high and represent “Gears of Industry,” “Flames of Knowledge,” “Bolts of Energy,” and “Stars of Inspiration.” The female statues’ debut was somewhat controversial; some local ministers felt their endowments and adornments were a little too much; within days, workers were out using metal files and other tools to “modify” them a bit. Ask some locals about that story!
Continue on Main Street through Rock Hill, which brings you to SC Highway 121 and U.S. 21 to a junction with I-77 at the Interstate’s Exit 77. At this point, we’re basically halfway across the state. Five more featured tracks remain!
Optional Quickie Side Trip: Charlotte & the NASCAR Hall of Fame
Only about 40 minutes away from Rock Hill, you can access Charlotte, North Carolina and check out the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Follow I-77 to I-277 in Uptown (which ironically is what people would call the city’s downtown). This complex on the southeast corner of Uptown Charlotte – easily found via the signs and the office tower adorned with the NASCA logo - covers 150,000 square feet and showcases the history and heritage of NASCAR, honoring drivers, crews, cars, and fans.
From the sweeping circle of real race cars and descriptions of NASCAR tracks past and present to interactive exhibits where you can do everything from change a tire to climb into one of the famous “76” observation balls that were used for decades to get a birds’ eye view of races, to the Great Hall, Glory Theater, Hall of Honor, and more, you could easily spend an entire afternoon – or more – checking out everything here. The Best Western Carowinds is right along I-77 in Fort Mill just south the North Carolina-South Carolina border, a convenient stop heading either to or fro. And Carowinds, the region’s major amusement park, provides transportation fun in the form of roller coasters, too!
Continue on U.S. 21 southeast from Rock Hill and exit onto Rock Hill Highway, going through Catawba and tiny Van Wyck to U.S. 521, a major thoroughfare and we’ll be using for a while. Near the U.S. 521 junction, you can access Andrew Jackson State Park. This park, popular with Charlotte area residents, honors our 7th President with a cool statue and museum while also offering hiking trails, bird-watching, fishing, canoeing, and more.
Up for more race tracks? Then let’s head south on U.S. 521 just a few miles to reach Lancaster Speedway, “the Fastest Half Mile Dirt Track in the South.” This short track dates back to 1954 and includes hosting past NASCAR events, Carolina Clash Super Late Model Series, Pro Street, Crate Sportsman, Super Street, Extreme 4, Vintage, SECA, Late Models, RWD4, and the United Sprint Car Series. Amenities have continuously improved on this ½-mile high-banked dirt oval through upgrades; and Lancaster serves as a major stop on the dirt track racing circuit.
A few miles south of the track is the actual city of Lancaster (locally pronounced LANK-iss-ter), which calls itself the “Red Rose City.” The town features a number of lovely historic building. The L&C Railroad Museum chronicles the historic – and still active - short-line railroad and is open Saturdays from 10am to 4pm. Up for “shag dancing”? It’s not a metaphor… the Lancaster Shag Club offers lessons and information on South Carolina’s Official State Dance: The Shag. Details are available at (704) 764-8808. From an historic standpoint, off Rocky River Road/SC Hwy 522 the Buford Battleground features monuments and memorials from a Revolutionary War battle that took place here on May 29, 1780.
From Lancaster, follow U.S. 521 south to Kershaw, home to Carolina Motorsports Park. Opened in 1999, it’s the only purpose-built road racing facility in the Carolinas. NASCAR, NASA, the SCCA, the BMWCCA, Grand AM, and PCA all come here to race, test, and drive. The road course covers 2.27 miles; the kart track features 16 turns in less than ¾ mile. You can rent it and use it when events aren’t taking place. Karts are available for rental, too.
South from Carolina Motorsports Park, head south through Camden, past I-20 and another 25 miles into Sumter. The town (originally “Sumtertown”) was named after Thomas Sumter, the “fighting Gamecock” of the Revolutionary War… part of the inspiration for the South Carolina Gamecocks’ name and the fort in Charleston that became famous as the catalyst for the start of the Civil War. A statue of Thomas Sumter adorns the lawn of the Sumter County Courthouse.
The city has about 40,000 people and hosts Shaw Air Force Base, one of the largest in the United States, which is centered about 8 miles north-northwest of downtown. For something more tranquil, Swan Lake Iris Gardens is the only public park in the United States known to house all eight species of swans. The park, centered on Swan Lake, also features a botanical garden featuring Japanese iris, a butterfly garden, and hosts the Summer Iris Festival, the oldest festival in South Carolina. Admission to the park and gardens is free.
The Sumter Speedway is a 3/8-mile dirt oval racing Stock Four, Street Stock, Rookie, Crate Late Model, Super Street, and Extreme 4s. Races are held generally on Saturdays from March through September.
From Sumter, let’s launch back northeast, via U.S. 76 which makes a beeline toward Florence. A few miles short of I-95 near Timmonsville, you’ll find the Florence Motor Speedway, a ½-mile dirt high-banked oval featuring Late Models, Modifieds, Super Dirt Stocks, and Figure 8 racing. The facility can accommodate up to 3,500 spectators for Saturday night races, which take place April through October. Go Karts race beyond October and, weather permitting, through the winter season.
Of course, it’s only a brief ride to one of the granddaddies of them all. Just past Florence Motor Speedway, head north on SC Highway 340 past I-20 and up to U.S. 52. A quick jump north on U.S. 52 to SC 151/Harry Byrd Highway brings you to Darlington.
Darlington Raceway, the first “superspeedway” in NASCAR history and often referred to throughout its history as the track “too tough to tame.” The classic track was constructed on a former cotton and peanut field in 1950 after founder Harold Brasington was inspired by the success of the Indianapolis 500. To help preserve a minnow pond on the property, the track was built with an egg-shaped oval that over the years has added an interesting challenge and twist for drivers and their crew.
By 1997 – with the minnow pond long gone – the track was reconfigured (it’s now 1.366 miles) and the front stretch became the back stretch; seating is the largest by far of any track on our Tour and much of it offers a full view of the track, with high seats in Turns 1 or 4 considered the best; overall, the grandstands seat up to 65,000. For many years Darlington hosted the Southern 500 and Rebel 400 races, and Sprint Cup races continue to be held here every Mother’s Day weekend. The Southern 500 is scheduled to return during Labor Day weekend in 2015. The Darlington Legends Walk, behind two grandstands, salutes some of the greatest moments in the track’s history, using granite reproductions of Goodyear racing tires and old-style pit boards to showcase these moments. The Richard Petty Driving Experience is offered at Darlington periodically, where you can ride or even drive (for a bit of an upcharge) a 600-HP NASCAR race car and hit speeds of 150mph. Call them at (800) 237-3889 to confirm dates and times.
The Darlington Raceway Stock Car Museum, located in the complex, is a must for any racing fan. Featured cars include: the 1950 Plymouth that won the first Southern 500 at Darlington; a 1949 Oldsmobile believed to be the oldest existing, original NASCAR race car; the remains of a 1991 Lumina in which Darrell Waltrip survived – and walked away from - a terrifying crash involving eight rollovers at Daytona; the 1967 Plymouth in which Richard Petty won most of his races while securing his second Grand National Championship, including 10 in a row; a 1956 Ford convertible that won 22 races in a single year; and many more.
Also on display are restrictor plates, a “Hemi” engine, and plenty of memorabilia and racing trivia. The National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame is also housed in the museum; it’s filled with photos and interactive exhibits honoring pioneers, broadcasters and drivers, including Bill France, Junior Johnson, Chris Economaki, David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt, Cale Yarborough, Bill Elliott, Harry Grant, Alan Kulwicki, Bobby Allison, and many more. The museum and gift shop is open Monday-Friday 10am-5pm, Saturday 10am-4pm, and Sunday 11am-4pm.
From the Darlington Raceway, re-join U.S. 52 and head southeast to the interchange with I-95; this is where you’ll find the , only minutes from Darlington Raceway and right on the edge of the city of Florence. Considered the hub of the “Pee Dee” region of South Carolina, Florence is a city of 37,000 that has always served as a transportation hub. The Pee Dee River provided water access to Georgetown and the Atlantic; three major railroads came together here starting in the 19th century; and today, it’s where I-20 has its eastern end, meeting up with I-95 at what is considered the halfway point between New York and Miami (as they say, location is everything).
As one might guess of a city considered a transportation hub in the 1860s, Civil War battles were fought in the Florence area. Florence National Cemetery was established in 1865 as a central point for burying the Civil War dead; others from 20th century wars are also buried here. The well-maintained grounds provide information and directories to assist people looking for ancestors. Among those buried there is Florena Budwin, who famously wore a Union uniform and pretended to be a man so she could serve alongside her husband; when he was killed and she was captured, she served as a nurse in the nearby POW camp until her death.
Speaking of, the Florence Stockade nearby is that former POW camp. As many as 18,000 Union soldiers were imprisoned in the Stockade; nearly 3,000 died there… and it operated for less than a year. A city walking trail takes you through the Stockade area and what’s left of the earthen berm and pine timbers that made up its construction. To further commemorate this time in Florence’s (and our nation’s) history, the War Between The States Museum features weapons, uniforms, armor, books, documents, photos, and other artifacts from the Florence Stockade, the Mars Bluff Naval Yard, and Civil War battle sites throughout the Pee Dee region. The museum opened in 1988 in a 19th century home on Guerry Street in downtown Florence.
It’s not all war history; Florence has a bustling economy centered on transportation, logistics, and the productive surrounding farmlands. It’s also a great place for golf; we suggest the Country Club of South Carolina or The Traces if you want to get a few holes in.
From Florence, let’s head up I-95. At Latta (Exit 181) you’ll find the Best Western Executive Inn, popular for its convenient access to Darlington, Florence, Myrtle Beach, and all up and down the I-95 corridor. Let’s hop 12 more miles northeast on I-95 to find our final short track in Dillon.
Dillon Motor Speedway is a 4/10-mile asphalt short track just off I-95 at SC Highway 9 (Exit 193), just behind Dillon’s local airport. It opened as a dirt track in 1966 and, while closed for years at a time in between ownership, became a paved track and received significant upgrades by 2007 after track’s purchase by former NASCAR driver Ron Barfield. With a little bit of an egg shape similar to Darlington, turns 1 and 2 are different from turns 3 and 4. Dillon races Late Models, Chargers, Street Stocks, Pure Stock 4 Class, MiniCup Stocks, Super Trucks, and the Allison Legacy Series, and the schedule is busy from March through October; some events take place in the off-season, including the Street Stock Series New Years Day 300, a fun way to kick off a new year!
For touristy kitsch, just a quick shot northeast on I-95 about eight miles brings you to South of the Border, a roadside attraction abutting the North Carolina-South Carolina state line along I-95 and U.S. 301. Originally developed in 1949 as a beer stand (bumping up against a dry county in NC), South of the Border has developed into a major rest stop for travelers. A theme developed mixing Dixie with Old Mexico, and a large neon sign topped with a sombrero and the adjacent 200+-foot tall Sombrero Tower came to mark the location pretty distinctively. South of the Border (or SOB, as some locals call it) features a monstrous souvenir shop, fireworks stand, a restaurant, wedding chapel, a Reptile Lagoon, Pedroland (which features rides), and a place called the “Dirty Old Man” shop which you’ll just have to see on your own.
Dillon itself, just southeast of I-95 along SC Hwys 9 and 34 and U.S. 301 and 501, is a town of about 7,000. The city’s historic downtown and 1911 courthouse make for a nice drive through the city. For the final leg of the Tour, just stay on U.S. 501. It’ll guide you in!
Follow U.S. 501 through Marion and Conway, past Coastal Carolina University and to the Myrtle Beach Speedway. A paved oval of just over half a mile, Myrtle Beach Speedway opened in 1958. The Speedway has held major NASCAR events in the past, with generations of many top driving families – Pettys and Earnhardts, for example – taking part and considering the track a primary “training grounds.” Today, the track offers a variety of races including the Whelen All-American Series, and you can even take a stock car and test the track yourself! The NASCAR Driving Experience is available at times during the spring and summer months. Myrtle Beach BikeFest also uses the track for some events.
So that’s all the tracks, and hopefully you get to enjoy checking them out! And since you’re basically knocking on the door of the bright lights and bustling attractions of Myrtle Beach, why not check it out? Myrtle Beach is one of the most popular vacation and golf destinations in the United States. Attractions for families, spring breakers, and guys’ and girls’ weekends – whatever people may travel for, Myrtle Beach has you covered somehow – after all, 14 million visitors per year can’t be wrong.
Ready to hit the links? Over 100 courses beckon – most of them public - handling the over 3.5 million rounds played each year. Championship courses from premier designers can be found up and down the Grand Strand, from oceanfront to well inland. The World Amateur Handicap Tournament has been taking place in Myrtle Beach annually for over three decades; PGA tours regularly make Myrtle Beach a stop. You have plenty of choices, in all price ranges, throughout the region.
Myrtle Beach is a major draw for bikers: Myrtle Beach Bike Week brings up to 200,000 riders, mostly on Harleys, to the area in spring and fall. Atlantic Beach Bikefest, the largest African-American Motorcycle Rally in the U.S., draws 350,000-400,000 each year around Memorial Day weekend. Of course, riders come to the area throughout the year, as drives up and down the Grand Strand and throughout the Carolinas are popular whether or not there are official rallies.
Family and “touristy” entertainment is everywhere in Myrtle Beach. Near the waterfront and primarily along Ocean Avenue, you’ll find shops, the Family Kingdom Amusement Park, and the eye-catching SkyWheel, a 187-foot tall ferris wheel that adds vibrant, dancing colors to the city’s skyline at night while offering riders beautiful views of the area regardless of the time of day. In need of a bigger adrenaline rush? Check out Myrtle Beach Thrill Rides, featuring the Slingshot, a reverse bungee thrill ride that launches you 300 feet into the air and “bungees” you around (yes, we’re making it a verb) before bringing you back gently – and wide awake – back to the ground. There’s also the Skycraper, which whips you around up to 60 miles per hour and 175 feet in the air, producing 4G’s of force.
Conversely, you can just walk along the beach, check out the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! or the nearby Children's Museum of South Carolina, or browse the shops along Ocean and the side streets… that’s perfectly okay, too. Much of the oceanfront area can be enjoyed on foot or bicycle up and down the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk, a 1.2-mile path that runs from 14th Avenue down to 2nd Avenue. At the current southern end, take a stroll out onto the Second Avenue Pier, a great spot for fishing, picture-taking, grabbing a bite at the Pier House Restaurant, and catching some of the best views of the beaches and city.
Trivia: Opened in 2010, the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk has been rated the #3 boardwalk in the nation by National Geographic (behind only Atlantic City and Coney Island) and #2 in the nation by Travel & Leisure.
Further inland along mainline U.S. 17 between 21st and 29th Avenues, a 350-acre spread known as Broadway at the Beach offers great shopping with over 150 stores, restaurants, nightclubs, and larger-than-life attractions such as Ripley's Aquarium, Pirates Voyage, WonderWorks, and more. Across you’ll find NASCAR SpeedPark, with seven go-kart racetracks, mini-golf, rides, and arcade games. Just down the street along U.S. 17 is Myrtle Waves, one of the largest waterparks in the country. A few blocks away lies the Carolina Opry, offering rock, country, and comedy shows – sometimes all combined. If you’re up for more shopping, The Market Common Myrtle Beach offers upscale shopping – primarily chain stores – on the former grounds of an air force base. There’s also a Tanger Outlets near U.S. 17 and U.S. 501. And that’s just a sample!
Myrtle Beach has two pro sports teams. One is the Myrtle Beach Pelicans are a Class A-Advanced baseball team in the Texas Rangers’ farm system. They play in TicketReturn.com Field at Pelicans Ballpark, just off U.S. 17. The stadium, which accommodates up to 6,600 spectators, also houses events like the annual “Baseball at the Beach” collegiate baseball tournament held in conjunction with nearby Coastal Carolina University. The area even has a professional soccer team, the Myrtle Beach FC, part of the National Premier Soccer League. They play at Doug Shaw Memorial Stadium, which also hosts major track and field events, area football games, and more.
Driving in and through Myrtle Beach offers two main options: Ocean Avenue (for beaches and downtown) and U.S. 17, aka “the bypass.” Following Ocean Avenue brings you past towering high-rises, provides frequent access to the beaches, Boardwalk, and 2nd Avenue Pier, and brings you to the main downtown attractions. The Best Western PLUS Grand Strand Inn & Suites is south of the main attractions, offering a private pool area, beach access, and easy walking distance to all the fun. The Best Western PLUS Carolinian Oceanfront Inn & Suites is on the north end, offering high-rise views of the ocean and city. The mainline U.S. 17, known to many as “the bypass,” parallels Ocean Avenue further inland, with access to attractions like the ballparks and Broadway at the Beach, along with many golf courses. Along this stretch of highway, the Best Western PLUS Myrtle Beach Hotel offers quick driving access to any of these attractions as well as points north and south. As you can see, Myrtle Beach is definitely worth a long stay to check out all there is to see and do.
Ready for a somewhat calmer beach stretch as we wrap up our Tour? Then North Myrtle Beach serves as a great wrap-up along the South Carolina coast. Once four separate towns, the area united in 1968. Quieter than its bright, bustling neighbor, North Myrtle Beach still offers up great shopping and entertainment. Barefoot Landing features over 100 stores, restaurants, and attractions, including a House of Blues, the Alabama Theatre, Alligator Adventure, a carousel, riverboat, and more. North Myrtle is known for “shag dancing,” a slower-paced version of swing dancing popularized in the 1940s. The National Shag Dance Championships happen here every year in March, and places like Duck’s Beach Club, Fat Harold’s Beach Club, the Spanish Galleon Beach Club (sensing a “beach club” theme here?), and more feature and occasionally offer lessons in shag dancing. If you prefer to dance on the beach, the sandy beaches of the Grand Strand’s north end provide plenty of room.
So what have we seen? A major cross-section of South Carolina, from foothills in the Upstate to wide beaches at the Grand Strand. In between, race tracks and motorsports a’plenty. Ten tracks, from dirt ovals to a legendary superspeedway. Also, cities, parks, rivers and lakes, oceanfront beaches, museums, history, rolling farmland, small town charm… and more race tracks! Enjoy – and start your engines!